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Dutch Conductor Jaap Van Zweden - How will He Fare as the Next Music Director Of The New York Philharmonic ?
  A few months ago , the highly respected Dutch conductor Jaap Van Zweden (Yaap Fan Zvay-den ) 55, was appointed to be the next music director of the New York Philharmonic , where he will succeed  the American Alan Gilbert in 2018 .  Van Zweden is currently music director of the excellent Dallas symphony orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic , and has been making quite a name for himself with leading orchestras of Europe and  America as a guest conductor ; he has appeared with considerable success with the New York Philharmonic several times and was one of several eminent conductors under consideration to succeed Gilbert when he steps down .  
   One of them was the distinguished Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, who is currently the orchestra's composer in residence, but he declined the job because he wants to have enough time to concentrate on composing as well as
conducting .  The orchestra's home in Lincoln Center, David Geffen hall, formerly Avery Fisher hall , will be closed for some time beginning in 2019 for extensive renovation in the hopes of improving its acoustics, long considered problematical ,  and the
orchestra's management is seeking a temporary venue or venues for the transition period .  
   Van Zweden began as a highly gifted violinist and had studied in his native Netherlands and at the Juilliard school , which is located right next to Geffen hall . At the age of 19 he became the youngest concertmaster in the history of the renowned  Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam , one of the world's foremost orchestras , playing  under many of the world's most renowned conductors .  Among these was the legendary Leonard Bernstein , who asked him to conduct the orchestra at a rehearsal one day so he could check the orchestra's playing from the auditorium ( conductors often do this at rehearsals to check the balance between the various sections of the orchestra to achieve clarity and transparency of sound etc ) .  Van Zweden was taken aback as he had no conducting experience, but Bernstein  sensed that he had potential to be a conductor , and the rest as they say, is history .
    So Van Zweden gave up his career as a violinist and  began to achieve success as a conductor , eventually becoming chief conductor of the Netherland Radio orchestra in Amsterdam and  was appointed music director of the Dallas symphony ,  a fine orchestra which has had such well known conductors as the Mexican Eduardo Mata and the American Andrew Litton and others as music directors and made recordings for various record labels such as EMI , RCA and others .  Van Zeden has also made recordings of the complete Beethoven and Brahms symphonies among other works in Amsterdam  .
   According to reports , the orchestra has reached world class quality under Van Zweden , known to be a very demanding and meticulous conductor , and the orchestra has released a number of recordings on its own label, including Mahler symphonies .  Van Zweden has also been conducting concert performances of  Wagner operas , and he is currently working on a cycle of Wagner's monumental Ring of the Nibelung  with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, which has also been conducted by many eminent conductors including his older Dutch countryman Edo De Waart .  Naxos records is recording these live performances, and the first part of the four part cycle, Das Rheingold, has already been released .
    But now Van Zweden has  taken on one of the most prestigious , difficult and demanding jobs in classical music - leadership of the New York Philharmonic , a position which subjects a conductor to  merciless criticism form all corners of the musical press .Eminent conductors such as Bernstein , Dimitri Mitropoulos, Sir John Barbirolli , Zubin Metha and others have received  relentless flack  from music critics in New York over the years and have been taken to task both for the repertoire they programmed and the way they have inbtepreted a wide variety of orchestral repertoire . This is no job for the faint of heart .  
   Current music director Alan Gilbert is a staunch champion of  new or recent music by a wide variety of  contemporary composers , and some critics , such as Anthony Tommasini , chief music critic of the New York Times , are concerned about whether the new man will do enough  contemporary music .  In fact, Van Zweden is no stranger to contemporary music , but the  question is will he do enough , and which composers will he champion ?  Only time will tell, but Tommasini is keeping an open mind and  has stated that  Van Sweden deserves a chance to show what he can do on the job .  This is a job where you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't when it comes to programming ; many critics will blast you for not doing enough, or the kind of works they hope to hear , and unfortunately , too many New York Philharmonic subscribers have very conservative tastes and are reluctant to hear new works . 
   From all reports, the members of the New York Philharmonic respect and admire the man who will be their next chief and are delighted to have him ; he would  never have been chosen without their approval .  Only time will tell how the combination of Van Sweden and  the New York Philharmonic turns out . But the signs are positive , and good luck to him . He will certainly need it !

Posted: May 02 2016, 11:07 PM by the horn | with no comments
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James Levine To Step Down As Music Director Of The Metropolitan Opera
   After 40 years as music director of the Metropolitan opera , the renowned American conductor James Levine has finally agreed to step down from this prestigious and  demanding post  because of  serious health problems which have plagued him for year

The veteran Met maestro will continue until the end of the 12015-16 season after which he will  be given the title music director emeritus .   At the age of 72 ,  Levine  is not particularly old or superannuated as conductors go ;  many have remained active well 

into their 80s . But  severe back trouble, progressing Parkinson's disease symptoms  , sciatica and arm tremors etc have forced him to conduct  from a motorized wheelchair and he has  had to cancel numerous performances in recent years , not only with 

the Met .  His ailments also forced him to resign as music director of the prestigious Boston symphony orchestra .  

   Unlike many other conductors , James Levine has  singlehandedly devoted himself to one position at the Met for the greater part of his life , and the two have become synonymous .  After making his debut there in 1971 as a rising young conductor , he 

became so popular with audiences, the Met orchestra and singers he was  soon appointed music director , a post which America's foremost opera company had never had for some reason , and he  carefully and painstakingly guided and molded  the venerable

organization , the largest performing arts group in the world  , building the  Met orchestra into one of the finest in the world  and initiating orchestral concerts with  it in in Carnegie hall ,  working with the world's greatest opera singers  and  fostering  the careers 

of numerous talented  young  opera stars .  

    Under Levine , the Met's repertoire continued to grow and diversify  greatly ; it had tended for many years to concentrate on the beloved  staples of the repertoire by Verdi, Puccini et al  to the neglect of  new operas and  and important operatic masterpieces 

which it had never presented , especially 20th century  works .  Levine conducted the Met premieres of such  operatic masterpieces as Alban Berg's Lulu , Moses & Aron by Arnold Schoenberg ,  Mozart's  Idomeneo and La Clemenza Di Tito ,  Benvenuto Cellini 

by Berlioz,  Gershwin's  Porgy and Bess ,  Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani ,  Stiffelio and I Lombardi ,  The Rise & Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Kurt Weill  .  He also led the world  premieres of several operas by leading American composers such as  John Corigliano 

and John Harbison , as well as revivals of operas which the Met had not performed  for many  decades , such as  Francesca Da Rimini by Riccardo Zandonai ,  Verdi's Nabucco  and Ernani ,  and Smetana's The Bartered Bride among others .

   Other Met premieres which he did not conduct included the  Met's first performances of operas by George Frideric  Handel such as Rodelinda, Rinaldo , and Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar ) ,  Capriccio by Richard Strauss ,   Satyagraha by  Philip Glass ,

Doctor Atomic ,  Nixon in China and  The Death of Klinghoffer by John Adams ,  Katya Kabanova,  The Makropoulos Case and From The  House of the Dead by Leos Janacek ,  Dvorak's Rusalka,  The Nose and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District  by Shostakovich ,

to name only a partial list .

   Maestro Levine is scheduled to conduct  three operas  next season at the Met  and the company under general manager Peter Gelb ,  is  busy searching for a  conductor of international stature to succeed him . This will be no easy task  , but  the brilliant  

Canadian French conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who has conducted  regularly there for several years with great success and is currently music director of the Philadelphia orchestra , is  considered to   have a strong chance of  doing this .

     Maestro Levine has   led the Metropolitan opera through  good and bad times ,  weathered  numerous  artistic , financial and labor crises ,  had his share of  dazzling triumphs and  controversial productions which failed to please the music critics ,     

faced  captious reviewers who faulted him for his interpretive approach  to certain operas  , complained bitterly about the  design and direction of  many operas ,  casting of singers and  the quality of  guest conductors  -  you name it .   

    However,  under Levine, the Met has  been able to engage such eminent conductors as   Daniel Barenboim , Riccardo Muti,  Simon Rattle,  Esa-Pekka Salonen,  Christian Thielemann ,  Christoph Eschenbach , Valery Gergiev ,  Vladimir Jurtowski ,

Carlos Kleiber, Lorin Maazel ,  and others .  No matter harsh the critics may be,   the Met audience adores James Levine, and rightly so ,  as well as its superb , devoted and hard-working orchestra and chorus .  
Posted: Apr 18 2016, 10:17 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Pierre Boulez (1925 - 2016 ) . A Belated Tribute .
  This past January , Pierre  Boulez , one of the most important  composers and conductors of our time passed away at the age of 90 .  Circumstances beyond my control kept me from posting  a tribute to him immediately , but  here is my attempt to do so now .

   We  have lost a musical giant , but also a highly controversial one .  The French maestro and composer of some of the most complex and abstruse music imaginable  had at least as many detractors as admirers , but no one could deny  his importance to

the world of classical music or his brilliance as both a composer and conductor .  Boulez was an austere cerebral genius and an extremely demanding musician , but  musicians in the world's greatest orchestras , such as those of Berlin, Vienna, New York, Chicago

and Cleveland  among others , had nothing but the highest regard for his enormous technical skill as a conductor and his  personal  kindness and warmth as a human being .  He did not suffers fools gladly, as the old saying goes ,  and his opinions on  many 

other composers past and present were scathing .  

    Boulez sneered at any composer whose music he considered to be insufficiently avant-garde and too old fashioned , for example  Dmitri Shostakovich , the Russian  composer of epic symphonies inspired by  the turmoil of life in the former Soviet Union .

The enormously popular music of Tchaikovsky was something he would have nothing to do with , and his contract when he assumed the music directorship of the New York Philharmonic in the 1970s  specified that he would be exempt from  conducting it !

   The composers he  championed were  20th century modernists such as Schoenberg, Berg, Webern ,  Stravinsky , Bartok, Olivier Messiaen (his teacher ) ,  Debussy, Ravel,  Elliott Carter,  Edgard Varese ,  as well as the late romantic Gustav Mahler and others .

He never pandered to audiences  at orchestra concerts . Boulez also conducted a limited  number of operas  in London , Paris,  the Wagner festival at Bayreuth , Germany and a few other places .  Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung and Parsifal at Bayreuth ,

Debussy's Pelleas & Melisande ,  Wozzeck and Lulu by Alban Berg,  and Moses & Aron by Arnold Schoenberg , for example .  

     The production of the Ring in 1976 , celebrating the centennial of the  Bayreuth festival was the  legendary controversial one where Wotan and the Germanic  gods were portrayed as  19th century  tycoons  instead of wearing  teutonic helmets among  other 

peculiar features .  And Boulez's conducting was considered too cool, clinical  and concerned with clarity of texture instead of  a sumptuous wash of  ripe romantic  sonorities .  Throughout his conducting career , which began  when he  felt the need to  conduct  

his difficult music himself rather than  leaving it to other conductors  in the 1960s , he was  frequently accused of  interpretations which were  amazingly clear in texture ,  and  meticulously prepared but  cold and cerebral .  But  his performances were  rarely 

described as dull !   Boulez was  obsessed with  getting his orchestras to play exactly in tune, as his ear was amazingly sharp .  

He was music director of the New York Philharmonic  from 1971 to 77 ,  and his predecessor was the  glamorous  and flamboyant Leonard Bernstein ,  renowned for his exuberant  conducting gestures and  leaps on the podium  and his impassioned  

 spontaneous performances .  But Boulez was  extremely sober on the podium , conducting  quietly and  unobtrusively on the podium (he never used a baton, preferring not too .)  He just stood there quietly beating time precisely .  His ability to conduct  

extremely complex  contemporary music with  dauntingly complex rhythms  clearly was legendary .  Many audience members were upset by his emphasis on  rigorous 20th century music and  his avoidance of  flamboyant  romantic works  .  But he  managed

to attract audiences .  His other  major  position had been with the B.B.C. symphony in London , where he also specialized in  complex and daunting music .  He  was a beloved fixture at concerts of the renowned Cleveland orchestra for decades  as well as

a regular guest with the Vienna Philharmonic, Chicago symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic and London symphony among other great ensembles .  

   Boulez was born in Montbrison, France in 1925  and showed great aptitude both for music and mathematics in his youth , and studied in Paris with the great eccentric French composer  Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992 ) whose  strange and colorful  music

was inspired by bird song, Hinduism and Buddhism, among other things ,  and had a love hate relationship with his music , which he sometimes conducted .  Boulez was  a  champion of the so-called 3rd Viennese school of the great Austrian composer of 12 t

tone music, and whose techniques he  adapted in his own way as a composer .  But he even rejected Schoenberg's music as being insufficiently modern and wrote a nasty polemic piece called  "Schoenberg is dead  " shortly after Schoenberg  died in 1951 . 

    Boulez once  infamously declared than any composer who did not  use  the serial techniques  of the  modern school  was "irrelevant "  and "useless ".   But audiences did not agree with him .  

Among the most famous works of Boulez are  "Pli Selon Pli  " (fold   by fold ) and  "Le Marteau Sans  Maitre " ( the hammer without a master )  and "Repons ".  These are not works for full orchestra , but  ones for ensembles of  varied instruments, percussion, 

and other instruments with  parts for a vocal soloist with texts  based on 19th  century symbolist French poets such as Rimbaud  and modern ones such as Rene Char .  Forget about hummable melodies ;  this is not the point of the music .  Instead you get

a seemingly arbitrary  texture of random notes  scurrying about  in no recognizable key .  But there is absolutely nothing random about the music ; it is based on  extremely complex  techniques  . There are some  passages which are  "aleatory "  or  based 

on improvisatory techniques .  Boulez also uses  electronic  music  at times along with  traditional acoustical instruments .  This is anything but easy listening , but is all worth repeated hearings which  enable you to get  accustomed to it .

   Boulez left numerous recordings , both of his own music  and works by Schoenberg, Berg , Webern, Debussy , Ravel. Bartok ,  Messiaen ,  Mahler (the complete symphonies ) ,  Carter, Varese ,  Berlioz ,  and other composers  for such record labels as Sony 

Classical (formerly Columbia Records and CBS records , Deutsche Grammophon and   Erato records etc .  The Bayreuth Ring was released both on  LP,CD and DVD , and  there are also recordings of such great 20th century operas as Pelleas & Melisande by 

Debussy , Bluebeard's Castle by Bartok ,  and Berg's Wozzeck and Lulu .  Most of these are still available .  

   Boulez served as a mentor and teacher to many of today's leading composers in addition .

    Classical  music would never be the same after Pierre Boulez, and his  enormous influence on it  is a tribute to his greatness both as a composer, conductor , theorist  and teacher .  

Posted: Mar 31 2016, 06:38 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Can The Symphony Orchestra Survive In The 21 st Century ?
   This is a big question , and there are no easy answers to it .   The present era has been a rocky one for too many of  America's  numerous symphony orchestras , and  problems have been increasing for quite a few in Europe and elsewhere .   An appalling number of orchestras have either folded or come dangerously close to folding , and many everywhere are struggling to meet the costs of staying alive . 
   Virtually any orchestra anywhere is at potential risk of  going under and even some of the greatest in the world such as the world-famous Philadelphia orchestra , have  been experiencing serious financial difficulties .  
    The costs of running a quality orchestra are considerable ;  in order to attract the best  players, an orchestra must offer competitive salary ;
there are the costs of  salary for the music director , the musicians, and the administrative staff , which are considerable .  There is always the problem of selling enough tickets , and sold out halls are not something which happens every day , for a variety of reasons .  Even if an orchestra could  sell out every concert, this would not cover the considerable expenses of running it .
    Unlike European countries , where orchestras and opera companies have been heavily subsidized by the government for so long ,  there is 
pitifully  little government help for classical music organizations , and  businesses and philanthropists do not offer nearly enough help .
And recently, because of economic problems, more and more European governments have been forced to make cuts in support for  orchestras
and opera companies, causing a number to go under or exist in diminished circumstances , with lower pay for the musicians .
    The situation in Europe is still nowhere near as dire as in America, though .
 The audience for classical music has been growing older and older, and fewer young people seem to be interested in attending orchestral 
concerts in America .  The abandonment of school programs introducing young people to classical music is to blame for this largely,
although there are isolated exceptions .   
    The National Endowment For The  Arts could do much to remedy this unfortunate situation, but its government budget is pitifully small , 
and its job is to support the arts in general, not only classical music .  Our government COULD greatly increase its budget without  causing
any financial distress to the nation as a whole,  but unfortunately , too many conservative politicians in congress  are too dense and  
philistine to realize this and more than a few would like to see the NEA  abolished altogether .  They believe that the NEA  puts an unfair tax burden on citizens and  does nothing but subsidize "obscene " art in museums, which is idiotic .
    More than a few music critics and other classical music pundits have been questioning the relevance of the symphony orchestra in the 21st century .  According to them,  it is a "dinosaur " and  a  "museum ".  They claim that people in the present era cannot see the symphony
orchestra as something meaningful or important to them ;  it is a dated , hopelessly irrelevant  relic of the past which is nothing but a 
vehicle for rehashing  music by "Dead, White , European Males , "  but this is a half truth .
   True, much of  what orchestras play IS music by "Dead White , European Males , "  but what could be wrong with this ?  The music of  such
great composers as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky , Dvorak and others is still played for a good reason - it's  magnificent music which has stood the test of time and  which still thrills audiences today as much as it did in the past .  
    But orchestras DO play more music by living or recently deceased composers than most people realize , and some of the composers are LIVING White European males ,  and even  Americans, Asians,  Latin Americans as well as women , believe it or not .  
    The repertoire of the symphony orchestra  today is more diverse than ever before ;  a vast accumulation of repertoire  going back well
over 200 years exists ranging from  the 18th century to the present day , unlike the time of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, when the orchestra as we know it was a relatively new thing .
    If  more people, not only teenagers and young adults could only realize how enjoyable attending concerts can be, as well as listening
to CDs and  streaming  classical music on the internet etc , they would WANT to make  orchestral concerts a part of their life .  
   The only problem is  GETTING more people to realize this .  Music you enjoy can never be "irrelevant " !   The symphony orchestra can and will survive .  

Posted: Oct 12 2015, 09:59 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Composer Is Turning In His grave .
  Recently ,  London's Royal Opera , Covent Garden  revived  a legendary , rarely performed opera by  Gioacchino Rossini  (1792 - 1868 ) , best 

known for his beloved comic opera The Barber of Seville .  This was  the famous William Tell , made famous by its use on  "The Lone Ranger ".

    The famous overture is just the opening of a huge , nearly four hour long operatic epic based on  medieval Swiss history , when  Switzerland

was under the tyrannical rule of Austria .  Because of its great length ,  extremely demanding   parts for the principal singers  and overall  

unwieldiness , the opera has never been  performed  frequently , and revivals are always musical events .  

    The opera is chock full of wonderful music  beyond the famous overture , though  ,  so it's definitely worth seeing if you ever get a chance .

It has also frequently been performed with extensive cuts  for practical reasons . 

    But  the recent production in London  provoked  considerable critical outrage  because  the director  , who shall remain nameless ,  

indulged in  some of the typical  directorial mayhem which has been plaguing European  opera productions since the 1970s .   This  dramatic

perversity has been labelled "Eurotrash opera ", or "Regie theater " , in which directors and designers   take truly unwaranted liberties with

dramatic values , such as  adding all manner of gratuitous sex, violence and  ridiculous arbotrary production gimmicks .

     If the  great  composer Rossini were alive today , he would no doubt have suffered heart failure  during one of the opera's ballet  

sequences in this production  .  In one scene , Swiss peasants are dancing in honor of the tyrannical  Austrian ruler of  Switzerland, the one who 

orders  Wiilliam Tell, leader of the Swiss resistance  , to shoot an arrow  in order to attempt to  shoot  an apple off his son's head .

    The director  perversely  turned the ballet into a dance by Austrian soldiers who  strip and brutally rape a young Swss woman !   

He claimed that this was intended to show the  "ugliness of war", or something to that effect .  But was this really necessary  in an opera

like this ? I think not .  The London music critics had a field   day denouncing the director, as well they should have .  But such excesses have 

unfortunately becme the norm in European opera companies, especially Germany , where it's de rigeur to  do all manner of  perverse

things to any given opera .  You almost never see an opera staged in  its original time or even location .  Or possibly it will be  in the

country of the original  libretto , but  it will be in the present day .   Updating the operas is far from the worst part of these productions ,

and is not really objectionable in itself .  But the directors and designers always seem to have some ridiculous  arbitrary gimmick up their

sleeves, just for shock value .  Such as  showing  ***  executing people even in an opera which takes place centuries before the second world 

war ,  and other preposterous gimmicks .  

    There have been  a fair number of productions in America and Canada which update  operas and use gimmicks, but they fortunately tend not 

to be nearly as perverse as the European   ones .

     Interestingly , this production will be  coming to New York's Metropolitan opera in the near future  , where it has not been performed for  

at least 80  or so  years .  Whether the ballet will  repeat  what  was in the London performances remains to be seen ,  but let's hope not !

    The London production  will probably be released on DVD  before long , but there are at least two others  in existence .  Try the production

from La Scala, Milan conducted by Riccardo Muti  , which dates from about 20 or so years ago .   Such a great opera deserves better  than

to be subject  to  gratuitous sex and violence .  Leave poor Rossini in peace, please !

Posted: Aug 10 2015, 09:55 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Russian Conductor Kirill Petrenko Chosen To Be Next Chief Conductor Of The Berlin Philharmonic .
   Habemus conductorem !  In a surprise move , the members of the mighty Berlin Philharmonic have chosen a  dark horse to  their next  chief 

conductor  to take the helm from  Sir Simon Rattle  in 2018 when Rattle departs to lead the London Symphony orchestra .  After failing to  choose

a new chief maestro  last month , the members of the orchestra , who choose  their  top man  unlike most other orchestras ,  have chosen a

relatively  unfamiliar name to  the concertgoing public , a 43 year old  Russian conductor  who is currently general music director of the  

presitigious Bavarian State opera in Munich  and is better known  for conducting opera than concerts . Vasily Petrenko is a native of  Omsk,

Russia  and has  conducted leading orchestras and opera companies all over Europe as well as  at the Metropolitan opera .  

   He is not nearly as well known yet to the classical music public as  such  renowned conductors as  Christian Thielemann , Rattle, Mariss Jansons ,

Riccardo Chailly , Valery Gergiev  ,  Daniel Barenboim and others, all of whom have  been regular guests  with the Berliners , and had only  

conductoed the orchestra on three occaisions . But the musicians of the orchestra were so favorably impressed by  Petrenko's   conducting that 

they have chosen himto succeed  Rattle  .

    Although Russian , Petrenko  has extensive experience conducting the operas  of such quintessential German composers as  Wagner

and Richard Strauss , and  his conducting of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen at the Bayreuth festival  in the past two Summers  was lavshly

praised by leading German music critics and others .  

    Not having heard him  conduct yet, I can't  pass judgment on  Petrenko , but  everything I have heard about him so far indicates that he 

is an outstanding  musician  and conductor .   How his  tenure with the Berlin Philharmonic will turn out is impossible to  predict ,  

as with every  conductor who has just  been chosen to lead a top orchestra , but  for the time being ,  things are looking up for this  magnificent

ensemble .
Posted: Jun 23 2015, 10:00 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Today Is The 150th Birthday Of The Great Danish Composer Carl Nielsen .
   The great Danish composer Carl Nielsen was born a century and a half  ago on June 9th , 1865  and died in 1931 , honored as the foremost

composer of that small but charming Scandinavian country .  Unless you're fairly knowledgable about classical music , you may not have

heard of this  highly individual  composer  , who  was almost totally unknown in America  until  Leonard Bernstein  discovered his music  

in the mid 1960s and began to  perform and record it with  his then orchestra , the New York Philharmonic .

   His music was not even  that well known in Europe outside of Scandinavia .  But things have changed , and  Carl Nielsen has been 

generally recognized as a truly great composer everywhere .  Unlike his great contemporary   Jean Sibelius of Finland , who was born the same 

year ,  no  leading conductors  championed his music until fairly recently  .  The music of Sibelius  had powerful champions in  such great

conductors as Leopold Stokowski , Sir Thomas Beecham , Sir John Barbirolli ,  Serge Koussevitzky and others .  

    Nielsen is a difficult composer to pidgeon-hole .  He  neither began nor followed any "isms".   The only ism he ever followed  was

individualism .  Perhaps this  caused  the relative lack of  appreciation he  received during his lifetime .  He was born on the island of

Funen in the Danish archipelago , the son of  humble  parents  , one of 12 children .  His father was a house painter and amateur  

folk musician  , and  the young Carl grew up in  the idyllic Danish countryside .  He learned to play  several instruments ,including

the trumpet  but concentratted on the violin and studied at the Copenhagen  conservatory  under the leading Danish musicians of the day .

   He became a member of the second violin section of the Royal Danish orchestra , which  is the orchestra of the Royal Copenhagen opera  

as well as playing regular concerts ; the orchestra still exists  in the same capacity today .  He also began to conduct opera and concerts  there

while producing a wide variety of orchestral works, chamber music, choral works,  two operas ,  etc  and  began to make a name for himself

as a composer in his native country and   nearby Sweden , where he regularly conducted  , including his own works .   

    Nielsen's most famous works are his six  brilliant  ,powerful and highly original symphonies ; they have finally gained a place in  the

international orchestral repertoire and have been  recorded fairly often  by a wide variety of different   conductors .  His woodwind quintet , for 

flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn  is probably the greatest work for that combination of instruments  . (There are more than you may 

realize ).  

    The delightful, witty and  sparkling comic opera "Maskarade ", which  takes place at a Copenhagen masquerade ball  , is considered the 

Danish national opera ,  is probably the only opera by a Scandinavian composer to  be performed with any frequency outside of  Scandinavia 

and is available on DVD .  

   The clarinet concerto  is probably the greatest concerto for that instrument  , and the delightful violin concerto is finally coming into its own '

The flute concerto is also delightful .  Orchestral works include  the  radiant concert overture "Helios" which  evokes the sun rising and falling

on the Agaean sea , based on Nielsen's visit to Greece ,  the  symphonic poem "Pan & Syrinx " based on Greek mythology ,  and  the

"Imaginary journey to the Faeroe Islands  " . as well as the scinitlating overture to "Maskarade ."  The choral works are very interesting

but  totally unknown outside of Scandinavia  . They have been recorded , though .

    The music of Carl Nielsen is  full of  energy ; it is optimistic  and life-affirming  ,although it can be grindingly dissonant at times .  It  is

the exact opposite of the brooding , mystical  and  dark  music of his Finnish friend Sibelius , who was inspired by the  specatacular  

forests  and  primitive  countryside of his  homeland as well as its ancient pagan   Finno-Ugrian  mythology .

    Nielsen's music mixes  joviality , humor  and  optimism  with  stark, angular dissonances  in a highly personal way .  One of his greatest and

best known works is his 4th symphony , subtitled "The Inextinguishable "  was inspired by the horrendous carnage  of the first world  war and 

was premiered  at  the time .  The concept of the symphony is that  life is indestructable  and there is an elemental  life force in the universe

which would preserve life despite  the  horrifying destruction of the war .  The work itself is not " inextinguishable ;  it  represents

the elemental will to life .  The work is in four continuous movements without a break  and is  filled with  fierce conflict  and  clashing

dissonances  ; there is no  central key such as C   major or minor ;  different keys clash with each other  and   fight  for dominance .

In the 4rth movement . ther eis a fierce battle between two  antiphonal sets of tympani which  thunder at each other in an almost

terifying way . But the symphony ends with fiercely defiant optimism .  

    The even stranger 5th symphony has no subtitle . It is in two movements .  Nielsen conceived of this unique work as a  representation of the

elemental struggle between good and evil , chaois and order .  Again, there is no central key and the symphony wanders from key to key

in a way which may seem  chaotic at first but  which proves to be highly logical . In the first movement a solo snare drum beats  away

relentlessly amid whatsounds lile random noise and chaos ; eventually the player is directed by Nielsen to  begin playing  as though he

had gone berserk and all hell breaks loose in a  terrifying  battle ; but  the drum is  soon silenced and the movement  ends in quiet

contemplation  a  clossal battle which has ended .  The  frenetically energetic  2nd movement  is an attempt to rise above the  

chaos of the first and ends again, in fiercely defiant triumph .  No symphony  like this had ever been written before .

     You can easily obtain recordings of Nielsen's music  led by such eminent conductors as Leonard Bernstein ,  Herbert Blomstedt,

Simon Rattle,  Paavo Berglund . Sir Colin Davis and others , as well as his  non-orchestral works . Check  to order 

them or .  You'll wonder where this wonderful music has been all your life !

Posted: Jun 09 2015, 03:51 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Stalemate In Berlin .
  This story isn't brand new, so please excuse me ; it happened last month , and it's as fascinating as it is important .  The 123 members of the great 

Berlin Philharmonic met last month at an undisclosed location  to decide on a conductor to succeed  Sir Simon Rattle as chief conductor when he

steps down  in a few years to  be  the next prinicpal conductor the the London symphony orchestra .

    Unfortunately , the musicians were unable to agree on  the winning candidate annouced they will make their descision within  a year or less .  

  Critics  , commentators and classical music fans everywhere were sorely disappointed  .  There has been so much speculation  ; it's a lot  like

wondering who the next president of the   U.S. will be .  Everyone, or almost everone has a favored  conductor he or she would like to  see  lead

this  mighty ensembel with its  illustrious history dating back to 1882 when it was founded .  Previous chief conductors have included such  

podium giants as Claudio Abbado , who passed away only last year at the age of 80 ,  Herbert von Karajan and Wilhelm Furtwangler .  Virtually all

of the world's foremost conductors have appeared with the Berliners  over the years , and the orchestra has made an enormous number of 

recordings under its chief conductors and  guest conductors  for such prestigious record labels as Deutsche Grammophon , EMI ,  Philips,  and 

others .

    The Berlin Philharmonic is a self-governing institution ;  the members of the orchestra  choose their chief  conductors and guests  as well

as  winnders of  auditions for membership in the orchestra , although there is a general manager who  functions as an administrator .

    In most other orchestras , the chief conductor or music director  is chosen by the management  with the  input of the orchestra members ,

but the Berlins have  control over the whole process .  

    Meetings to choose a chief conductor have been compared to  Papal conclaves in Rome ;  last month , the musicians were required to

temporarily surrender their cell phones for the  vote .  

    But this time,  the musicians were unable to reach a majority vote , and  the decision had to be postponed .  The  renowned  Berlin born

conductor Christian Thielemann, currently  general  music director of the presitigious and historic  Saxon State opera in Dresden  and the 

presitigious  Dresden State orchestra, which fiuctions both as a concert orchestra and the opera house's orchestra ,  has been considered

to be the most likely candidate  by many, and he was a protege of the legendary Herbert von Karajan many years ago before he became 

world famous .  Other conductors who had been regular guests  have been  considered possibilities,  such as Latvian Mariss Jansons , who 

may be too old at 72  ,  Daniel Barenboim, the same age ,  and for many years general music director of the Berlin State opera , or younger 

ones such as Venezualan Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic or  Latvian Andris Nelsons, recently installed as music director of 

the Boston symphony , but  Nelsons is unlikely to  give up Boston so soon  or  lead both orchestras simultaneously .   Now it's anyone's guess .

    Could a dark horse emerge ?  Who knows ?
Posted: Jun 08 2015, 11:20 PM by the horn | with no comments
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It's almost Impossible For Me To Choose Favorites In Classical Music
  If you ask me "who is my favorite composer , my favorite conductor ,  pianist , violinist , opera singer , orchestra " ,  sorry , I just can't  choose 

from so many great ones , living and dead .  But this is a characteristic of mine ;  I'm hard pressed to tell you my favorite  book ,  magazine ,

newspaper , film , television program ,  food, drink ,  website , or what have you .  

   I've been listening to , reading about ,  studying  and performing classical music for nearly 5o years now, since I was  only about 13 years old . .

I've experienced so many  great composers , works ,  musicians , recordings  and live performances  it's virtually immpossible  to name my 

favorites . Of course , I like some composers , some works and some  musicians more than others , and dislike some ,  but it's like choosing  

the favorite among your children .  

   Of course , I love the great established masterpieces of the repertoire by  Bach ,Mozart, Beethoven ,  Wagner,  and other famous composers ,

but there's so much wonderful music  which is off the beaten path  by composers who are not household names .  Ever heard of  such

composers as Karol Szymanowski , Carl Nielsen ,  Hans Pfitzner,  Arnold Bax ,  Albert Roussel ,  Sergei Taneyev ,  Alberic Magnard ,

Jon Leifs ,  Wilhelm Stenhammar , Nikolai Myaskovsky , Charles Koechlin ,  George Whitefield Chadwick ,  Havergal Brian ,

Roberto Gerhard ,  Rued Langgaard ,  etc ? Probably not unless you're a real lover of classical music  with a lot of listening experience ,

but all of these wrote some terrific music that is well worth hearing . And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to  obscure

but interesting composers .  They come from countries as diverse as Denmark , America , England , Russia , Poland , Sweden and even  

Iceland  in the case of Jon Leifs .  And it's so easy to  get recordings of their music now , even though your chances of hearing their music live

are not  very great .  

    It's similar with recordings .  You can get the music of Beethoven , Bach, Mozart, Wagner, Tchaikovsky ,Debussy , Ravel  et  performed

by a galaxy of different conductors , orchestras , solists and singers  ranging  from the early 20 th century to  musicians of the present day .

   Take the  nine symphonies of Beethoven alone ; among the most important cornerstones of the classical canon .

The first complete recording of Beethoven's iconic fifth symphony was made by the Berlin Philharmonic  conducted by the once  

world famous Hungarian conductor Artur Nickisch  around  1914 , under the most primitive recording conditions . An acoustical

recording  made before electronic recordings .  It's a fascinating document .  Nickisch , one of the first superstar conductors , iived from

1855 to 1922 .  He was born less than  30 years after the death of Beethoven  in 1827 !   Since then ,  who knows how many  

conductors , famous and not so famous , have recorded the Beethoven symphonies, many in integral sets of all nine .  

Such legendary names as Toscanini , Bernstein , Stokowski ,  Karajan ,  Bruno Walter, Solti ,  Mengelberg ,  Klemperer , Carlos Kleiber ,

to name only a handful .  The young Venuzuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel , born in 1981 , is one of the more recent ones .

    How do you choose a favorite when you've heard so many recordings of just one famous symphony ? It's not easy .

You will like some more than others , but for me it's virtually impossible . Many conductors have recorded these symphonies

on two or more occaisions .  The legendary Austrian maestro Herbert von Karajan  left no fewer than FOUR sets of all nine Beethoven 

symphonies ,  beginning  in the 1950s  with London's Philharmonia orchestra , not to be confused with the London Philharmonic ,  and   then

with the Berlin Philharmonic , which he led  for over 30 years .  The last set was in Digital sound  in the 1980s . He lived from  1908 to 1989 .

    If you're looking for recordings of the Beethoven symphonies , it's a daunting task if you're a beginner .   

   As there is no one right way to  perform a musical work, especially an immortal masterpiece , there are different approaches  , and fans and

critics debate  the virtues of different recordings endlessly .  Which is the best ?  Who has made THE definitive recordign of any of the  nine

Beethoven symphonies .  Well, there is no such thign as a "definitive " performance of any  masterpiece . Different conductors  have

changed their  approach to interpretation over the years .  

    Do you want a classic recording by  such greats as Toscanini and Furtwangler  made  between the  1930s  and 50s  in  dated  ,

less than high fidelity sound ,  or a more recent digital one  recorded with amazing  clarity and presence by  eminent living  maestros

such as   Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Chailly , Bernard haitink and others .  You can also  hear  recordings  on  period instruments , with gut 

strings, simpler woodwind instruments , valveless horns and trumpets and old  fashioned tympany  made with  leather  rather than plastic .

    One thing is certain ;   comparisons  between different conductors and orchestras are fascinating .  On one extreme, you have  the

fast and furious recordings of   the legendary Arturo Toscanini  , so full of nervous energy , and on the other extreme , the   slow, majestic,

weighty  and deliberate  recordings  of  the legendary German conductor Otto Klemperer .  Which is right ? You decide , but   no one

has a monopoly on the right way  to conduct the Beethoven symphonies .  As Beethoven has been dead for  narly 200 years , we will  

bever know  which  ones he woudl or would not have liked .  But the arguments will never cease among different  listeners .

    But we should be greatful for  the existence of so many different  interpretations .  

Possibly you will have your favorites .  But I just can't decide .  I'd rather just enjoy the music than worry about my favorites .


Posted: May 04 2015, 10:12 PM by the horn | with no comments
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A Violinist Wins The Classical Music Lottery , Sort Of .
  You probably haven't heard of  Chinese-born American violinist Frank Hwang , but he's just won Classical Music's equivalent of the lottery ,

and one of the  most prestigious posts in the world of  the symphony orchestra .  He's just been appointed to be the next concertmaster, that is  

the   principal  violinist of the New York Philharmonic , oldest symphony orchestra in  America .

    He managed to beat out   many other  brilliantly gifted violinists from other  great orchestras to get this plum job ,  so it isn't as easy

as winning the lottery  through  blind luck .  He  got the job through a combination of   enormous talent and even more hard work  developing    

his  talent  from an early age, not to mention sheer luck .  But the   competition for such a  coveted  position is very much like the lottery in that

your  chances  

of getting such   a job if you're a violinist  are  pretty much astronomical  . It's   tough enough to get  a job as a  a section violinist in a great

orchestra  , or  a position in any section  , but  Frank Hwang   has achieved something which   very few classical musicians  will

ever  do  no matter how talented .  

    If you're interested to know how orchestral auditions  work , you can check a post I did  years ago  when I first  began my blog  here 

called  "How do you get a job in a symphony orchestra " ?  As a horn player  , I went through this harrowing ritual many times, including  

three auditions for the New York Philharmonic  myself  .   Believe me, it's not an experience for those who are faint-hearted !

     Hwang was born in China in 1978 but came to America with his family as a child , and was first taught the violin by his mother .

He went on to  study seriously  after initial lack of enthusiasm  , studied with  distinguished teachers , won many presitigious prizes 

and    appeared as a soloist with  many leading orchestras as well as playing recitals and   performing chamber music .  

   He became concertmaster of  the presitigious  Houston symphony , but when the  renowned violinist  Glenn Dicterow, who recently retired as

Philharmonic after  over 20 years  , he  manged to beat out many other superb   violinists for the job , and  spent several weeks as a guest

concertmaster   trying out  for the job .  This frequently happens  at auditions .  After winnowing out  many applicants ,  the  

finalists  are sometimes given a chance to  perform at actual concerts with the orchestra as a trial . 

    Music director  Alan Gilbert   , who will be leaving this post  in two years , made the final choice of Hwang for the job .  A committee of

  members of the orchestra  votes  on  candidates for any  position , but the music director always has the final say .

     So congratulations , Frank Hwang ! You have   enormous shoes to fill  , following in the footsteps of so many  outstanding  concertmasters

of the New York Philharmonic .  It's a great responsibility  being in the hot seat of   a great orchestra .  

    The concertmaster is   like the quarterback of a football team .  It's an incredibly tough and demanding job ,  and the pressure

is enormous  . The concermaster has to play   any given violin solo in  orchestral works  , and is responsible for crucial tasks such

as   regulating   the bowing  of the violins  and   being the liason between the  violins  and the conductor .  Sometimes  the

concertmaster plays    violin concertos  with the orchestra , or as a guest with other orchestras .  Glenn Dicterow did this often and with

the greatest distinction .  

    Being the concertmaster of the orchestra has certain perks , such as being the highest paid member of the orchestra , and  though

he won't make the same salary as  the quarterback of   an NFL  quarterback , he has a very steady  job and   will last much  lnger

on the   job than any football player on the job and  like the other members of the orchestra  , will get generous benefits  andd two months 

paud vacation !     Not too shabby !


Posted: Apr 08 2015, 10:30 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Happy 90th Birthday To The Great French Composer And Conductor Pierre Boulez !
  Today is the 90 th birthday of one of the most important and influential  classical musicians of  our time  , Pierre Boulez . It would be difficult to

overstate his  enormous impact on  classical music in the 20 th and early 21st centuries  , both as a composer and conductor , as well as a teacher ,

writer and theorist .  He is now  retired from conducting   and  composing  due to  failing eyesight and  physical frailty , but  the  entire vast 

world of classical music is celebrating his  birthday today . 

   Born in  Montbrison , France in 1925 , Boulez  studied  composition in  Paris with the  great  French  composer  Olivier Messiaen  at the

Paris conservatoire ,  and   became  known as  a composer of  rigorous  , highly complex  serial music  which    never pandered  to   

audiences  and    even   alienated many listeners  , as well as a champion  of   the  12 tone music of   the so-called "Second Viennese school " of 

Arnold Schoenberg , Anton Webern   and other  modern composers .  

   Boulez  became known as an Enfant Terrible of contemporary music ,   contemptuously dismissing  20 th century composers who did not meet

his    rigorous standards of  modernity , Shostakovich , for example and  once arrogantly declared that any living composer who did

not conform to   rigorous  atonal serialism  was  "irrelelvant" and "useless " , showing total disregard for  what concertgoers  expected  ,

as well as alienating many other prominent composers  . but he  continued to  produce   works which  gained  performances and  

earned the admiration of   such  musical giants as Igor Stravinsky .  Most have been works for  smallish ensembles of  diverse instruments ,

including  electronic instruments  ,  marimbas  and other  exotic  devices  , some with solo voices .  Three extremely difficult  piano sonatas ,

and  works with  such  strange titles as " The hammer without a master ",  "Pli Selon Pli " (fold on fold )  etc .

   He used the   texts of once  avant-garde French poets  for his vocal works and   these were reocrded  a mumber of times , sometimes under 

his direction .   Boulez did not originally intend to become a conductor , but felt the need to in order to   have  his intentions   best realized  .

    Boulez began to appear with  such great orchestras as  the  Cleveland orchestra ,  the London symphony and others , and in the 1970s

became principal conductor of Lndon's BBC symphony orchestra , which was sponsored by  the BBC  and  allowed him ample rehearsal  

time to achieve  performances of  the  greatest polish and precision .  He also began to conduct opera ,    appeared regularly at the
world famous Wagner festival  at Bayreuth  , leading the   controversial 1976 centennial production of Wagner's Ring  , which    brike with

traditional sets and costumes ,  and acclaimned  productions of   Berg's Wozzeck and Lulu at the Paris opera ,  and Debussy's Pelleas &

Melisande at London's Royal opera  .

   When Leonard Bernstein  stepped down as music director of the  New York  Philharmonic in 1969 ,  Boulez  took the orchestra over in  

1971 .  He was   exact opposite of the  the flamboyant , exuberant and  highly emotional  podium figure which Berbnstein was  ;

he  was   sober , restrained and   undemonstrative on the pppodium , and many  critics and listeners accused him of   being  a  coldly

analytic musician who  favored a totally cerebral  approach to  music making  .  But all acknowledged his enormous   technical  expertise  

and  fastidious attention to detail  .   

    The musicians of the New York Philharmonic  were  sometimes  exasperated by his  rigirous attention to detail in rehearsals and  insistence 

on  achieving  perfectly  in tune playing   , clarity of  texture , that is making sure that everything in a score can be clearly heard ,  which is far 

easy .  Particularly with  contemprary  works with their  enormous complexity .  

   Boulez   avoided  the   audience -pleasing  works of  Tchaikovsky , Rachmaninov and other Romantic era composers ,  with which he had no 

affinity and even  disdain for , concentrating on  music by Debussy , Ravel,  Schoenberg, Berg, Webern , Bartok, Stravinsky , Messiaen and 

20th century composers.  However , he did not  bar guest conductors  from  doing  the audience favorites .

   When he stepped down from the Philharmonic in  1977 , he moved to Paris , where  with the generous  funding of the  French government , 

he became director of a center for  avant garde music called  IRCAM  , the International center for experimentation in modern music ,  leading

musicians  who  specialized in new music as well   as experimenting with combining  electronic and acoustical instruments .  .

   Boulez maintained his relationships as guest conductor with   the Cleveland orchestra , the Chicago symphony ,  the Vienna Philharmonic

the  Berlin Philharmonic and    other great orchestras ,  but  his  activities as a conductor  limited his time to   compose .

     AS a composer ,  Boulez  began  using  Schoenberg's 12 tone techniques , but was determined to go beyond them  and achieve

even greater complexity  and  compositional rigor .  Shortly after Schoenberg's death in 1951 , he wrote  a notorious  article

called "Schoenberg is dead ", dismissing  the   great Austrian's music as no longer  sufficiently avant garde .   Music which  was once

considered outrageous in the early 20 th century was now old hat to him !

    If you are looking for  tunefulness in music , you will   never  be able to grasp  the music of Boulez .  But  it  rewards repeated listenings .

    He has also made numerous  recordings  as a conductor  for  Sony Classical  (formerly CBS  and Columbia records ) Deutsche Grammophon 

and other labels  of music by  Debussy, Ravel, Wagner,  Mahler , Schienberg ,  Webern , Bartok , Stravinsky ,Messiaen  and other  composers ,

including   operas by Wagner , Debuusy , Schienberg  ,  Berg  and  Bartok , many of which have  won awards , such as the Grammies .

   Boulez has served as a mentor to many  younger composers and conductors  who went on to achieve  world fame ; Daniel Barenboim ,  

for   example .  He is a giant of  modern music , as  uncompromising and forbidding as he may seem .  



Posted: Mar 26 2015, 03:28 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Does Classical Music Have a Diversity Problem ?
   According to conventional wisdom , the world of classical music is staid and set in its ways , and slow to change . There is some truth to this

accusation ,  but  things are still vastly different from  its past .  No longer is classical music   dominated by    white, preferably European males .  

There  are still plenty of them in the field, which is not necessarily a bad thing .  After all ,   dead white European  males  are pretty much  

what  brought  classical music into existence many centuries ago , and they have dominated the field as composers , conductors ,  

members of orchestras ,  instrumental soloists  etc .  
    But  in recent years ,  women  and  non-whites have been achieving   unprecendented prominence   in all the  fields  just mentioned . 

something which would have been unimaginable in the past .  Of course, there have been countless famous  and   beloved   female opera singers ,

as well as a fair number of  female  violinists , pianists , cellists etc .  However, there have been far more women composers   than most people

realize ,  but because of  sexism , they never achieved  the  public recognition  might have  gotten had they been male .  The sisters of  

both Mozart and Mendelssohn were  composers of  considerable talent ,  as well as  performers,  but  as women  things were  

against them .  Robert  Schumann's wife Clara was a renowned pianist who also composed , and some of her music has been recorded .  

   There are so many from the past who are now forgotten , but a surprising amount of their music has been recorded in recent years . 

But today , there are more women composer  before the public than ever before, and some of them have been widely performed .  

   Among them are  Sofia Gubaidullina of Russia , Kaaia Saariaho of Finland,  Judith Weir of England, and   Jennifer Higdon of America , to name 

only a few .  Now, it's not even news when an orchestra performs a work by a woman composer .  

   Until recently, the field of conducting was dominated bywhite  males  .  But more and more are starting to  appear with  the world's leading  

opera companies .  Marin Alsop  , a New York native and protege of  Leonard Bernstein , is the first woman to    be appointed as music director o
the Baltimore symphony , and has made recordings with them  and  achieved  considerable acclaim .  Australian  Simone Young served until

recently as music director of the Hamburg State opera , one of the most prestigious in Germany .  Susanna Malkki of Finland  is  rapidly  

achieving  international recognition  , and she has even been  touted as a long shot to become next music director of the New York Philharmonic 

when Alan  Gilbert steps down .  

   There are many others  , too many to  mention here .  50 years ago , there were very few women in  mosy of the world's top orchestras ,

but now there are plenty of them .  This began when orchestras adapted  blind auditions , with  candidates playing behind a screen , which they 

still use .

   Asian countries such as   Japan , China and  South Korea  have   been major players in classical music for many years .   Japanese conductor 

Seiji Ozawa turns 80 this year ,  Chinese superstar Lang Lang sells out audiences everywhere .  and  there are so many   others .

   Japanese , South Korean and Chinese musicians   are now common in  leading orchestras everywhere , as well as  Asian Americans /

   Young  and enormously gifted   Asian   aspiring  classical musicians  are now  filling  leading  music schools   all over America  , such as

Juilliard , the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia ,  and others .  They are actually a majority at Juilliard .  

   The renowned  Vienna Philharmonic , which  in order to preserve its traditional   sound  , has   always favored  native born  

Austrian  male musicians , has  been subject ot considerable criticism for failing to give women  and   Non-Austrians a chance   , has 

gradually begun  to   accept  some of these lately .  

    Unfortunately ,  African Americans still   make up only  about one percent of  American orchestras .  but this is not due to discrimination , but 

the fact that very few  African Americans have ever  aimed at  careers  in orchestras .  But no one is standing in  they way , and  

blind auditions  guarantee that they will not face discrimination .  There are no doubt  some  talented aspiring young  black  

instrumentalists  now , and there is no reason for  young blacks with talent  not to aim   for a career in them .  

   Opera is  the  field within classical which has produced  the most   African Americans  , and these include such legendary  

opera stars  as   Leontyne   Price , Marian Anderson , Grace Bumbry , Shirley Verret and others .to name only a few .  

Marian Anderson was the first balck  singer  to  star at the Metropolitan opera , as far back as the 1950s .

   The late Henry Lewis  was the first black conductor to appear at  the Metropolitan opera, and first  to  be music of a major  

US orchestra , the New Jersy symphony orchestra .  Marian Anderson's nephew  James De Priest , who passed  away last year ,

was an internationally acclaimed conductor who  appeared with  leading orchestras around the world  for decades . 

   Maybe the world of classical music is not quite as staid   as we've been led to believe by critics  and  commentators !


Posted: Mar 11 2015, 11:00 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Latest News About Classical Music - Interesting Times Indeed !
  The old Chinese saying  "May you live in interesting times "  can be interpreted as a curse or something  not so negative .  These are certainly  

interesting times for classical music .  The Chinese pictogram  for  the word  crisis  consists of  the words danger and opportunity .  

   A crisis could  bring  good news as well as disaster  .  So here are some of the most important  recent stories  from the  anything but staid and boring

world of classical music .

   The billionaire  media moghul  David Geffen , who is said to be a lover of classical music , has  just donated  millions of dollars  to

Avery Fisher hall, home of the New York Philharmonic  in Lincoln  center  , to subsidize   renovation  of the  acoutically troubled   concert

hall  in the hopes   of improving  its acoustics .  This is scheduled to begin in  2019 , and   will force   America'soldest  symphony

orchestra to seek  temporary change of venue for its concerts .  No one is certain about this, but   the neighboring   David H. Koch

theater , former home of the defunct  NewYork City opera has been  proposed .  

   This is always a   dicey  move .  When   what used to be called  hilharmonic hall  , now Avery Fisher hall, opened in   1972   when the late, 

great Leonard Bernstein was music director  ,  it was considered  by all to b e an acoustical disaster .  The late  billionaire  businessman  

Avery Fisher donated money for a renovation in the mid 1970s , and   while there was definite improvement, the hall is still   

considered   to be far from the equal of  those in  Boston , Vienna and Amsterdam  , which are renowned for the way they   make

orchestras sound magnificent  .

   A new concert   in Paris has just opened  a few months ago , and   according to reports , the acoustics are excellent .  Building new

concert halls is always  a  crap shoot ;  there is no way to predict how good the acoustics will be .  For every acoustical  success in

recent years ,  many  duds have  opened .  

    London has no fewer than five  full time orchestras  , unlike New York which has  only its Pilharmonic  and  various part time ones .

But there have  been many complaints that  London , one of the world's greatest centers of classical music , does not have a single  

concert hall with  superlative acoustics , and  there are plans to build  a new one  which  will aim  to remedy this situation .  

   The acoustics of Carnegie hall  , which had  been the home of the New York   Philharmonics until the opening of  Lincold center

in the early 1960s   are considered  world class .

   The   renowned  English conductor  Sir Simon Rattle has been appointed to   become the next chief conductor of the London symphony  

orchestra in 2017  when Valery Gergiev steps down and takes over the Munich Philharmonic .  Rattle has been chief conductor of the Berlin  

Philharmonic since  2002  and   no definite  successor in Berlin has been decided on yet .  He has expressed hopes for   a first rate

new hall for London , and his  considerable influence seems to have worked .  
Posted: Mar 05 2015, 09:59 PM by the horn | with no comments
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So Classical Music Is "In Decline " Again . Ho Hum .
  If you go to facebook discussions , classical music forums, articles on the internet  and other  websites where classical music is discussed  and

argued about ,  something which I as a classical musician naturally do every day ,  you can't help notice  people who are  either  performers,

critics ,  scholars , teachers and   others who are merely knowledgable listeners  who are always longing  for the "good old days"

of classical music , centuries or merely decades ago , when  everything was so much better than the  present day ; I just encountered

several  in the past few days  . 

   If you believe these individuals ,  everything was so much better in the world of classical music long ago ;  most music was new , rather than

today's supposed concentration on music from the past, and a tiny fraction of it at that , when  conductors  were so much better than

those of today , ditto orchestras ,  violinists , cellists and other instrumental soloists , when   orchestras supposedly had "distinctive  sounnds"

rather than the way they supposedly "all sound alike" today , when  standards of opera singing were so much higher ,  and when   musicians   

didn't all perform the same music the same way and performers had   "real personality " and individuality ", as opposed to   the "cookie  

cutter" musicians of  today who are all so"  timid and pednatically literal ".  
    But in fact, there is no lack of new music today , and the classical repertoire is actually more DIVERSE than ever before .

   Longing for the "golden age" is  nothing new and can be found in all fields of human endeavor .  The ancient Romans  had a term for  

someone who is always  knocking the present  and longing for the "good old days ".  The    Laudator Temporis Acti",  or   one who  praises

bygone days .   Classical music has been full of these "laudators "  for  as long as I can remember reading  about it  ; books,  

magazine articles ,  etc , and now  the internet .  And I've been a classical music freak for nearly 50   years since I was a teenager !

   I recently read an interesting article by an English musicologist  which someone posted  on facebook the other day , claiming   that 

we   "don't perform classical music the right way " , based on  research ,  historical recordings ,  writings etc .  

   According to this  scholar ,  classical concerts have become  rigid and formalized ;  audiences were much more  relaxed  and casual at  

concerts , and  musicians  didn't care about  techincal perfection  and  avoided the pedantic literalism of interpretation which has become t

the norm today .  Cincerts were fun  and festive !   Musicians took risks and   took  interpretive liberties   which are frowned upon today .  

   I've read numerous articles like  in recent years . There may be some truth to it, but    based on my decades of listeing experience to  both 

recordings and live   performances, and  countless   reviews by critics in newspapers, magazines  and now the internet ,  as well  as  books,

maintain that reports of   the supposed  "pedantic literalism "  and "lack of individuality in interpretation " have been   greatly exaggerated . 

   Why ?   Because I've read countless   reviews of live performances and  recordings in my day in which   critics   mercilessly

lambasted   msuicians for all the liberties they took with the music . !

    Something just doesn't add up here .  There's a huge paradox, and a double standard .   If   musicians today are so "pedantically literal ",  

why have I read so many  negative reviews   in which the critics  accused them of  all manner of interpetive excesses , mannerisms  

and other  quirks which  they PRAISE in old recordings by legendary musicians of the past ?  

    The  legendary  piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowowitz, (1903-1989 ) for example, is extolled for his  interpetive flair, imagination ,  panache

and individuality . But one of today's most prominent  piano virtuosos,  Lang Lang of China ,  who      is perhaps

 the  most renowned    of today's classical pianists , is always  being sneered at for his alleged  "lack of seriousness and depth ,

superficial  technical display at the expense of   interpretive profundity  and   shameless  exhibitionism "  . Talk about a  double

standard .  Horowitz can do anything with the music he wants and critics rave  , but  Lang Lang  shows his own flair and   

individuality , and the critics   blast him  and refuse to acknowledge him as a serious musical  artist .   There are many,many

other examples of critics applying this double standard  with other musicians of the present day .

   Horowitz is held up as a paragon   of pianists  , yet   Lang Lang is cynically  used as an excuse to  make sweeping generalizations about  

how  standards of    musicianship have supposedly declined   from the idealized past .  

    There have been similar  brickbats   handed out to to the brillianitly gifted Venuzuelan-born conductor   Fustavo Dudmel,  now in his

early 30s like  Lang Lang , and who in the past decade or so has  risen quickly  into the foremost ranks of   today'  conductors 

and is now music director of the prestigious Los Angeles Philharmonic .  Dudamel is the most famous product of  Venuzuela's

now famous "El Sistema", which has  given so many poor youngsters in that  country  a chance to learn musical instuments and  

play in numerous youth orchestras .  

   Dudamel is  enormously gifted, charismatic ,  and   bursting with enthusiasm  . But he's no mere  flashy   podium glamor boy .

He's the genuine article ; a conductor  who has the  potential to become one of the greatest  conductors in a field where  conductors

often do not reach   until long past youth , and   elderly maestros who are still active are not at all uncommon .  

    But there has been plenty of   critical flack  , not necessarily nasty , but  dismissing him   as   possibly haven risen  to  

prominence before reaching maturity as a musician .  

    To be a prominet classical musician today often means being damned if you do and damned if you don't .   It's a no

win situation ,   because of   those annoying Laudators Temporis Acti , or however  the Latin plural  goes .   I don't think

I got the plural right, but you get my point .  

    But you can be sure that  decades from now, when  today's leading classical musicians  are either dead or   too elderly to  

perform any more,   people will be longing for the good old days of  Lang Lang and   Gustavo Dudamel, and their contemporaries 

of the present day . The more things change, the more they stay the same .

Posted: Feb 25 2015, 10:43 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Metropolitan Opera Has Just Announced Its 2015 -16 Season - There's Lots To Look Forward To !
  The Metropolitan Opera's 2015 - 16 season  will  offer its usual  varied  operatic fare with the world's greatest singers , conductors  , directors

and designers .  The overall repertoire looks somewhat more conservative than usual , with no new or recent operas , but it's far  from

uninteresting .  There is less emphasis on 20th century operanext season than in the past several years also .  

   The veteran and beloved James Levine remains the Met's music director despite severe back trouble and other ailments which have 

sidelined him  for the past several years .  But the good news is that his health seems to have   improved considerably, even if he  is forced

to   use a motorized wheelchai  in order to conduct .  

    There will be six new productions  and a variety of  other  productions , some new this season .  Verdi's great  Otello , based  on  

Shakespeare's Othello will be the first new production and will open the season this September 21 st .  Many consider this to be  one of

the greatest of  Italian operas , and it's   gripping adaption of the Shakespeare play .  The Latvian tenor  Alexanders Antnenko will  sing

the  title role , and the brilliant young  French -Canadian  conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin , currently music director of the Philadelphia 

orchestra , will conduct . 

   "Elektra" , a harrowing  tale of  the  vengeful  Greek   Greek princess Elektra , daughter of  King Agamemnon of Trojan war fame  , will be

a recent European-based  production by the late French opera director Patrick Chereau , and will be conducted by the renowned  

Finnish  conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, currently composer in residence at the New York Philharmonic .  The opera is not for the 

faint-hearted , but you'll never forget it !

   The 19th century French composer Georges Bizet is best known for his world famous opera   Carmen , but the Met is reviving  a much

less familiar opera of his after exactly 100 years !   It's "Les Pecheurs des Perles "  (The Pearl Fishers ), an exotic tale of love and rivalrly

set in what is now   Sri Lanka , formerly Ceylon .    Anyone who enjoys  Carmen should like this a lot .  

   "Roberto Devereaux " , by Gaetano Donizetti , is the completion of  the trilogy of  historical operas by the Italian composer

about Queen Elisabeth the first and her loves and rivalries .  The other two , which will also be in the Met repertoire next season ,

are "Anna Bolena" (Anne Boelyn) and "Maria Stuarda ", about Mary Stuart .  The late  ,great Beverly Sills gave acclaimed performances of

these  operas with the now unfortunately defunct New York City opera many years ago .    The operas play fast and loose with the  

historical facts but are so enjoyable  it doesn't matter .  

    Puccini's "Manon Lescaut  "  was   the composer's first  successful  opera , and is basically the same story  as the slightly earlier French 

opera by Jules Massenet called simply Manon .  It's the story of a naive young French girl from the provinces who meets a dashing but

impecunious young nobleman  while  on the way to a convent  and falls madly in love with him, with ultimately  fatal results .

Finally , there is a new production of the   strange and kinky opera "Lulu " by the Austrian composer  Alban Berg , a pupil of Schoenberg  .  

The music is 12-tone  but highly expressive . It's the bizarre story of an enigmatic young woman and Femme Fatale  wo marries  at least

three men in the course of the opera , each of whom dies in mysterious circumstances .  In the last act, which was left uncompleted

by Berg at his untimely death but fisished by another composer many years later from the sketches , Lulu has become a  prostitute

in London and is killed by none other than Jack the Ripper .  The opera is decadent fun  and qite approachable despite its atonality .

   Other  beoved operatic masterpieces in the repertoire next year will include Puccini's evergreen "La Boheme ",  the thundering  

melodrama "Tosca", and  the exotic "Turandot ", set in ancient China ,also by Puccini .  

   Verdi's  melodramatic "Il Trovatore ", hilariously pillaried by the Marx brother in the classic comedy "A Night at the Opera ",

and his sombre  tragedy  "Simon Boccanegra", set in medieval  Genoa  ,  will  return  .   Placido Domingo , ,who has lately been singing baritone

roles in his 70s , will portray the  doomed Doge of Genoa .

   Rossini;s  Scottish opera :La Donna Del Lago :(the lady of the lake)  which had its  Met premiere just last night , will return ,

as well as Donizetti's  charming bucolic   comedy "L'Elisir D'Amore " (The elixir of love ).

    Wagner's "Tannhauser " , the tale of  a medieval German troubador  caught between his chaste love of  a virtuous  young

noblewoman and the  wanton  erotic goddess Venus , who keeps a  lair in the German forest where she lures men , and goes off  

to Rome to seek forgivemess from the Pope, will  represent the German wing of the repertoire .  

    Even if you don't live anywhere near  New York city , you can still experience Met performances live  at movie theaters around the

country for much less than   a  good ticket would cost , as well as listen to the Saturday afternoon  radio broadcasts  which can be heard

all over America .  You can stream live performances on your computer, too  .  
   If you're planning to visit New York  and have  and have some free time ,  you can easily contact the Met's   website for information about tickets .  There are alos plenty of DVDs of Met performances  from the past available  .

   Attending a Met performance is a real treat !   There's absolutely nothing "stuffy or "elitist" about it .  You can dress casually  

and the audience   has no hoity-toity rich people dressed to the nines  attending for snobbish reasons .  The Met audience  is

made up of  people who are opera fans  who are just as passionate  about opera as sports fans are about their home team !

   And don't worry about foreign languages .  You'll find a device on the seat in front of you  with an English translation of the opera .

You can turn it off if you don't want it .  But I definitely recommend it if you're new to opera . 


Posted: Feb 18 2015, 10:59 PM by the horn | with no comments
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